The United States Women's National Team's youngest player might have been its best Sunday.
20-year-old Tierna Davidson made her first Women's World Cup start, and assisted twice in the United States' 3-0 win over Chile in Paris. Davidson was one of seven changes to the starting lineup that head coach Jill Ellis made after Tuesday's 13-0 thrashing of Thailand, and the victory clinched the Americans' spot in the Round of 16.
Davidson, a Menlo Park native who attended Sacred Heart Preparatory (Atherton) and Stanford, started at left back in the Group F clash. Normally a central defender, Davidson was on corner-kick duty Sunday as a fullback. She delivered two pinpoint, left-footed crosses 10 minutes apart in the first half, setting up Julie Ertz and Carli Lloyd's headers.
Davidson, who left Stanford with a year of eligibility to become the No. 1 pick (Chicago Red Stars) in January's NWSL draft, said after the game that taking corners didn't necessarily come naturally.
“I was a little bit unsure exactly because I hadn’t taken a corner kick since September, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just put it up there for Carli and she will get her head on there, put it in there for [Ertz] and she’ll get her head on it,’” Davidson told Pro Soccer USA's Ashley Scoby. “Big credit to them, because we have such fantastic aerial presence and they really commit to what they do. So me putting it just outside the goalkeeper’s range was all I really had to do for them to score.”
Although she is the USWNT's youngest player, Davidson has been a fixture in Ellis' side when healthy. Davidson missed World Cup qualifying with a left ankle injury, but started 12 games in 2018. She played all 90 minutes in each of her first five caps, becoming the first to do so since Julie Foudy in 1994.
On Sunday, Davidson became the youngest player to start for the USWNT at a World Cup since 1995, as well as the youngest defender ever, according to TruMedia Networks' Paul Carr. Central defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who has over 100 more caps than Davidson, told reporters in Paris that Davidson's potential is nearly limitless.
.@beckysauerbrunn on @tierna_davidson:— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) June 16, 2019
"She's got years and years and years on this team, and she's going to be the best defender in the world, no doubt ... When it comes to techinique, she's well up there in her ability to strike a ball. She's very cool under pressure." #USA
Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper -- another Sacred Heart alum -- likely remain locks for Ellis in central defense, but Davidson's performance might have given Ellis something to ponder with regards to her back line. Crystal Dunn, who plays forward for the NWSL's North Carolina Courage, started at left back against Thailand. Dunn offers more in attack than Davidson, but the 20-year-old's defensive instincts might be needed as the Americans face stiffer competition deeper in the tournament.
Ellis, for her part, was impressed by Davidson's performance in the attacking third.
“I mean, those balls she played in – she’s got one of the sweetest left foots I’ve ever seen,” Ellis told Scoby. “I think her distribution on the ball – she can open up a game with the left foot and obviously her set pieces.”
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Thursday's Group F finale against Sweden will be the USWNT's first real test of the tournament. Winning Group F would likely eventually set up a quarterfinals matchup with host France, but playing Canada -- second place in Group E faces second place in Group F -- in the Round of 16 still sets up a difficult path through the knockout stages.
Ellis' Thursday lineup and eventual substitutions, then, should provide some insight into her thinking ahead of the knockout stages. With Sunday's two-assist performance, Davidson certainly made a strong case for herself.